Formerly known as Urgo, Ulaanbaatar is the capital and the largest city of Mongolia. Surrounded by four mountains, the city stands on a windswept plateau and covers an area of 2,000 sq. km (770 sq. mi). Situated in the north-central part of the country, it is located on the northern bank of a shallow and swift-flowing river, the Tuul Gol, at an altitude of 1,350 meters (4,430 ft). One third of Mongolians make Ulaanbaatar their permanent home.
The city was founded in 1639 as a monastery center and eventually became the seat of the Living Buddha. In the mid-19th century it developed as an important commercial center on the trade route between Russia and China. The city became capital of newly independent Mongolia in 1911, and in 1921 it was taken by a Mongolian revolutionary group aided by Soviet forces. When in 1924 the communist Mongolian People’s Republic was established, the city was renamed Ulaanbaatar ("Red Hero").
It is the political, cultural, industrial, and transportation center of the country, connected by highway to all the major towns in Mongolia and by rail to the Trans-Siberian and Chinese railroad systems. Ulaanbaatar is the hub of international and domestic flights.
After World War II the city expanded greatly, largely with the aid of Soviet planning. Broad tree-planted boulevards and squares are lined with ponderous neoclassical buildings.
As the cultural and academic center of the nation, Ulaanbaatar is the seat of major art and culture establishments, museums, art galleries, and educational institutions. The largest museum is the Museum of Natural History that has a magnificent displays of the skeletons of giant dinosaurs. Others include the Zanabazar Museum of Fine Arts with a rich collection of world-class art works, the National Museum of Mongolian History, the Military Museum and the International Intellectual Museum with amazing puzzles and unique displays. There are also several fascinating Buddhist temple museums and functioning monasteries worth to visit. Ulaanbaatar also has several theaters and theater groups, such as the State Academic Theater of Opera and Ballet, the State Drama Academic Theater and the Folk Song and Dance Ensemble. The Ulaanbaatar State Public Library has a unique collection of 11th-century Sanskrit manuscripts.
Ulaanbaatar is full of surprises and offers excellent places to stay and eat, up-to-date amenities like internet cafés, western style supermarkets, discos, bars and nightclubs.
Local currency is used in all shops although some private shops may accept US dollars and Euros. Major credit cards are also accepted in some stores. The best buys include pictures, cashmere garments, camel-wool blankets, national costumes, boots, jewelry, carpets, books and handicrafts. Shopping hours: Daily 1000-1800 as a general guide although times and days may vary.